News in Brief: Open RAN breaks into an autumn gallop

A brief look at developments in network automation in September by Contributing Editor Annie Turner.

Telefónica had a busy month. It announced it will conduct Open RAN trials with NEC in its four core global markets – Brazil, Germany, Spain and the UK. The operator’s goal is to deliver commercial options to at least 800 sites across the four markets in 2022. NEC will lead system integration for the multi-vendor trials and work on implementing Open RAN technologies and use cases in Telefonica’s Technology and Automation Lab in Madrid. They will include applications built on AI-driven RAN intelligent controllers (RICs) and service lifecycle automation based on service management and orchestration.

Telefónica is a major proponent of Open RAN. It partnered Rakuten Mobile to jointly develop Open RAN on the world’s first cloud-native telecom infrastructure and worked with IBM on Open RAN in Argentina.

It has now signed a strategic, multi-year agreement with Big Blue for intelligent automation software and services to implement UNICA Next  – “Telefónica’s first-ever, cloud-native, 5G core network platform”. The operator’s plan is to “have an open, secured, intelligent, and highly automated network to power transformation for consumer and enterprise customers across all industries”.

It has engaged IBM Global Business Services, a systems integrator and the consultancy arm of IBM, Red Hat and Juniper Networks to deploy the cloud-native platform. Telefónica’s Network Cloud Lab in Madrid will be plugged into IBM Global Telco Solutions Lab in Coppell, Texas, to speed UNICA Next’s evolution, building new, integrated releases using CI/CD methodology for ongoing life-cycle upgrades to the existing UNICA Next platform.

In August, IBM announced it would create a 5G, Industry 4.0 test bed at its Texas facility with Verizon.

Separately, IBM announced is to set up an Open RAN testbed with Airspan Networks across the IBM Watson Center Germany and IBM’s Global Industry Solution Center (GISC) in Nice, France. The plan is to showcase long-distance control over 5G-enabled edge computing and help clients develop multi-vendor solutions for their customers’ different use cases. IBM says it expects to bring its global integration services and IBM Cloud Pak for Network Automation and IBM Cloud Pak for Watson AIOps to the party.

Meanwhile, BT has chosen Oracle Communications’ Converged Policy Management suite for 4G and 5G policy control and service design, using the in-built analytics to implement policy rules for edge routing, by drawing on data about subscribers, class and quality of service, network resources. Oracle’s Automated Testing Suite will help BT with policy design, optimisation and 5G software testing. Oracle Communications Consulting is to support the implementation of the policy solution and the migration of BT’s 4G voice and data services to 5G.

Colt Technology Services has deployed software from Blue Planet, a division of Ciena, for network assurance. Shane Sura, Colt’s VP of Network Operations at Colt Technology Services, said, “Deploying UAA [Blue Planet’s Unified Assurance and Analytics] for fault management enables us to leverage automation and AI to rapidly analyse and resolve network issues, as well as to proactively identify opportunities to enhance the reliability of our network. This is a key enabler in providing the fastest detection and resolution of network issues for exceptional customer service.”

Lack of agility will kill operators was the message from Hamdy Farid VP of Nokia Business Applications Unit told an audience at TM Forum’s virtual Digital World Transformation event. Nokia surveyed 101 service providers about the level of automation used to run their networks and discovered that 60% use manual processes with only 40% of network functions handled automatically. He gave some examples of successful implementations: Open RAN advocate Indosat for rolling out “lifestyle services”; Sinch reduced service creation time from months to minutes; Vodafone cut the time to isolate and resolve network issues by almost 30% using anomaly detection; and he praised US operator DISH’s approach.

NEC’s next-gen radio units will include the Xilinx 7nm Versal AI Core to help with beamforming and OpenRAN. Beamforming via massive MIMO is how 5G makes efficient use of mid-band spectrum, which is an automated means of signals picking up individual devices requiring more processing power than previous generations of radios. Chip maker AMD is in the process of acquiring Xilinx, the better to compete against rival Intel.

Nokia launched its fifth generation routing silicon, Nokia FP5, which it developed working with BT, NTT DOCOMO and Orange. It consumes 75% less power and has integrated line rate encryption for L2, L2.5 and L3 network services at speeds up to 1.6Tbps, plus 800GE routing interfaces that operators can market with their solutions. Federico Guillén, President of Network Infrastructure, Nokia, said: “FP5 is a significant step forward in performance, security and efficiency and – in combination with our software excellence and investment in network automation and tools – it opens the next chapter in Nokia’s long-standing leadership in IP networking and IP silicon innovation.”